NEWS: Books, books, books!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, READERS!

12742381_10156530658650150_2448979545047805041_nIt’s December and HOLIDAY MADNESS! My friends, the Mesdames of Mayhem and I, published a lot of books and short stories this year.  Do visit our website to find out about our doings at www.mesdamesofmayhem.com.

mesdameslaunch2015
L to R Sylvia Warsh, Donna Carrick, Joan O’Callaghan, Rosemary McCracken, Ed Piwowarczyk, Cheryl Freedman, Lisa De Nikolits, Cathy Astolfo, M. H. Callway; Front L to R Rosemary Aubert, Jane Burfield, Melodie Campbell, Lynne Murphy

We wish you Happy Holidays and EAT OUR BOOKS!  These goodies are good for you!

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Brantford – Retro Bizzaro!

Cathy Astolfo
Cathy Astolfo

My friend and fellow crime writer, Cathy Astolfo, recently moved to Brantford.  I’ve made flying visits there to give talks with other crime writers that Cathy arranged with her local Brantford library.  My impression: Brantford’s nice and quiet – a typical small Ontario town.

How wrong can you be! 

Follow the link here to fall through the Surreal Trapdoor and discover Brantford’s loveable eccentrics, like Mike on a Bike and Captain Kindness.  And time warps like the Dairee Delite selling ice cream  so good, Canadians line up for it in winter!

Directions to Surreal Trapdoor here: http://katywords.blogspot.ca/

Cathy writes two series: the light-hearted Kira Callaghan series set in the ReVisions Retirement Residence and the darker, Emily Taylor series. She’s also penned the standalone noir psychological thriller,  Sweet Caroline and published many crime fiction stories. Do check out this Arthur Ellis award winner’s  books here.  http://www.catherineastolfo.com/.

NEWS: MESDAMES OF MAYHEM CONTEST

MESDAMES OF MAYHEM SHORT STORY CONTEST

12742381_10156530658650150_2448979545047805041_nThe Mesdames of Mayhem are delighted to announce a crime fiction short story contest for Canadian writers previously unpublished in the genre. The winning story will be included in our third anthology, 13 Claws, to be published in 2017.

One of the principles we share in the Mesdames is to encourage other writers. Many of us teach creative writing and most of us give regular talks to readers and aspiring writers at libraries, book clubs, arts fairs, literary conventions, etc., etc. This contest is our way to Walk the Talk another 100 miles!

Judging of the stories will be done blind by a committee. All personal identifiers must be removed from the header, footer and body of the story submission. The Rules for Submission are reproduced here. Do check the Mesdames of Mayhem website regularly for updates on the contest.

13 CLAWS: Rules for Submission:

  1. The story must be about a crime, either solving it or trying to prevent it from happening.
  2. An animal must be central to the story. Any animal is allowed: for example, a cat, dog, rabbit, bear, snake, even a dragon or other mythical beast. The writer’s imagination is the only limit. The animal must be a main character or pivotal to the plot. In other words, if the animal was taken out, there would be no story.
  3. Writers must not have had a work of prose crime fiction published (i.e. short story, novella or novel) in either print or electronic form. Writers whose stories appear on their own personal blog(s) and writers who have had poetry or non-fiction newspaper or magazine articles or non-fiction books about crime are allowed to submit a story for this contest.
  4. Writers must be a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident in Canada.
  5. The story length should be between 2000 and 5000 words.
  6. A maximum of two submissions per writer.
  7. Formatting requirements:
    1. No personal identifiers anywhere in the header, footer or body of the story
    2. Include the story title and page number in the document header
    3. Story file in .rtf format, double-spaced, Times New Roman (12 point) or similar, 1” margins and please, no unusual formatting.
  8. Each submission must include a title page with the story title, name of the author and the word count of the story.
  9. Deadline for submission: March 15, 2017. All submissions must be electronic and sent to mcallway1@gmail.com.
  10. The contest judges reserve the right to name more than one winner. They also have the right to not declare a winner if none of the entries meet a standard suitable for publication in the anthology.
  11. The winning author(s) must be prepared to sign a contract with Carrick Publishing.
  12. Royalties will be shared equally between all contributors to the anthology after the publisher’s expenses are recovered and a portion of the proceeds are donated to the Toronto Humane Society.
  13. GOOD LUCK! After all, thirteen is the Mesdames’ lucky number.

 

CYBER CAFE: Kristina Stanley, Writing Biz Dynamo!

KS 75 High Res
I'm delighted to welcome back Kristina Stanley to Cyber Café. We first became friends at Bloody Words, Canada's late great national mystery conference. Both of our books had been finalists for CWA's Debut Dagger and the Arthur Ellis Unhanged Arthur awards.

Kristina very generously shares her writing skills and techniques on her website - a must for all aspiring writers. She's also superb at book marketing. Her book, The Author's Guide to Selling Books to Non-book Stores, is a must-read for all authors.

Like most writers, I find rewriting a challenge. Kristina is developing a digital tool to help authors reshape their manuscripts into books that readers will love. I can't wait to apply it my own work!!

Today Kristina tells us about this innovative approach to rewriting.

 Rewrite Your Way to a Great Novel Readers Will Love

Do you want to write a novel readers will love? If the answer is yes, you probably know that means a lot of hard work rewriting.

Whether you’re a plotter or a panster, once you’ve completed a first draft you might be asking yourself:

  • Where do I start my manuscript rewrite?
  • How do I keep track of all the writing tips I’ve read and apply them to my story?
  • What should I change to make my story better?
  • Am I ready to share my manuscript with others?
  • Wouldn’t it be nice to have an app that would help you through the rewriting process?

What is Rewriting?

A rewrite is the first step in the self-editing process. I’m not talking about copyediting or proofreading. You can do that after you’ve completed your rewrite.

Rewriting your first draft means analyzing your story from a high-level perspective and fixing any weak areas. You want to make sure that the story structure makes sense, the scenes are tense, there are no plot holes, and you haven’t left any subplots unfinished.

Plot describes the events that take place in your story. The events occur in a sequence, and that sequence forms the structure of your novel. You’ll most likely have a main plot and one or two subplots. Your protagonist (main character) follows the main plot. Secondary characters follow the subplots.

During the rewrite, you also take a hard look at your characters. When you’ve finished your first draft, you know who your characters are, what they look like, where they work and so on. But what about how they fit into your story structure?

To understand this and make the most of it, you evaluate your characters in the context of the structure of your novel. How often do they appear? What are their goals? What gets in the way of their goals?  Characters will drive the tension in your story, and tension is what keeps a reader reading.

Finally, the rewrite should examine your settings. Do you make the most of your settings? How often do you use the same setting, and is it too often? Do your settings help with the tone of your scenes, add conflict or tension, or show characterization? Make your setting work hard to keep the reader engaged.

Once you’ve determined the setting for each scene, ask yourself if the setting is the best place for emotional impact. This one little question helps you increase or decrease tension, set the mood and/or show characterization.

That’s a lot for a setting to do for you, but thinking about setting in terms of emotional impact will wake up your creativity.

How can Feedback help you?

We’re building Feedback, an app for writers that provides a guided approach to tackling comprehensive rewrites. Save time by rewriting efficiently. Save money on editing by doing as much as you can yourself.

Feedback will guide you through the rewriting process by asking you questions specific to your manuscript, enabling you to evaluate your own story.

With Feedback, you focus on plot, character, and setting. You evaluate on a scene-by-scene basis or on overall novel structure. Feedback will show you the most important structural elements to work on first.

Feedback helps you visualize your manuscript. Forget about yellow stickies or white boards. Feedback will draw character arcs, provide reports on scene evaluation, and show your rewriting progress.

Feedback is a learning tool. If you’re having trouble with a certain element of fiction, just click on the rewrite tip associated with that element and find out how to improve your writing. There’s no need to search through dozens of writing books to find the piece of advice you need.

On the technical side, Feedback will be a secure, web-based app. This means you will be able to access Feedback from any device you use.

Find out more:

Our goal is to launch Feedback in the spring of 2017. In order to create an app that is valuable to writers, we’d like your input on building Feedback. Sign up, and we’ll send you updates on the development progress and ask you the occasional question to help define the product. As a bonus, we’ll send you rewriting tips available only to our subscribers.

Are you as excited about Feedback as we are? Show your support by helping us spread the word and share this post. You can find us at www.FeedbackForFiction.com.

Your support means a lot to us, so thank you!

Kristina Stanley is the best-selling author of the Stone Mountain Mystery Series. Her first two novels garnered the attention of prestigious crime writing organizations in Canada and England. Crime Writers of Canada nominated DESCENT (Imajin Books, July 2015) for the Unhanged Arthur award. The Crime Writers’ Association nominated BLAZE (Imajin Books, Oct 2015) for the Debut Dagger. Imajin Books published her third novel in the series, AVALANCHE, in June 2016. 

Her short stories have been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and The Voices From the Valleys anthology. She is the author of THE AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO SELLING BOOKS TO NON-BOOKSTORES. 

As the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Feedback Innovations, a company started to help writers rewrite better fiction, she made up her own job title because she thought it sounded cool! 

To learn more about Kristina and her books, visit her website at https://kristinastanley.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

CYBER CAFE: Meet June Lorraine Roberts

june headshot
June Lorraine Roberts

I first met June in cyberspace. She’s a great supporter of fellow crime writers, their books, events and websites via her blog, Murder in Common.  We finally met in “meat space” at Toronto’s latest Noir at the Bar event organized by fellow crime writers, Tanis Mallow and Rob Brunet. A true pleasure to chat and to listen to her work!

Fans of crime fiction will enjoy June’s book reviews and recommendations.  Read on!

 

Welcome, June! Do tell us how you started Murder in Common. 

Thank you Madeleine for inviting me to your blog. It’s great getting to know new authors and I’ve been a fan of your work since you read Windigo Fire at Noir at the Bar Toronto.

Crime fiction (CriFi) is the main theme of Murder in Common. Occasionally you will find opinion pieces on writing and the terrors and joys of expressing yourself with the written word.

I had to look-up the date of the inaugural post, it was October 7, 2013, and was titled “The Art of Reading.” It took a while for me to find my online voice for this blog and for now, I’m happy with it.

Generally my posts are published weekly from mid-September to the end of June. The summer hiatus provides reading time and a brain refresh. I can however, be coerced to post by a debut author’s book launch.

Why crime fiction?

Reading crime fiction is something I’ve done from a very young age. Phyllis A. Whitney, Mary Roberts Rinehart and Patricia Highsmith are the authors I remember most. Of course all Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books were devoured.

Tell us about your followers.

What a pleasure to discover that my blog has reached readers from around the world. No surprise , of course, that CriFi is of interest. Geographically, the furthest readers from Canada are in Australia. The countries of readers that were a surprise: South Korea, Finland, Romania and Russia.

When someone asks for more information about a book, I know that my post has captured enough attention to warrant the question. That’s really how I write most of my posts, to initiate conversation. The dialogue with my readers is really the best part of writing online.

An author once referred to Murder in Common as a curated site. That took me aback and had me thinking about what I was putting out there. The truth is she is correct, and the basis for curation is opinion. I am opinionated about the books I’ve read. However, I don’t view my site as a review site exactly. I refer to the books I post about as “Recommended Reading.”

While my preference is Noir, there are lighter crime books that I have enjoyed and therefore I write about them. All in all, those books that have captured me for various reasons: characters, plot, deviousness, imagination and that certain turn of phrase that makes me smile. Or horrifies me.

I’m also quite pleased when my posts about writing garner feedback. My contribution in this area seems to be appreciated which is both rewarding and informing.

Which blog is your personal favorite?

My personal favourite is “Come Home to Giles Blunt” where I talk about leaving the mainstream of highly promoted USA best sellers, and discovering the writers producing wonderful work right under our noses. (Hear! Hear! MHC)

Almost three years later I had the privilege of reading my flash fiction at Noir at the Bar Toronto the same night as Blunt. The group picture was the bonus of reading with other Canadian talent and it was a terrific experience.

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Authors: Back L-R: June, Peter McGarvey, Rob Brunet, Dee Wilson, Tanis Mallow                                     Front L-R: Giles Blunt, John McFetridge, Dietrich Kalties, Rosemary McCracken

How can readers follow your blog?

Murder in Common has a Follow button which most WordPress users take advantage of. Otherwise you can sign-up via email subscription. All constructive feedback is greatly appreciated.

Thank you, June. It was a pleasure to meet in Cyber Café and I look forward to reading your own crime fiction soon!

 

 

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – Absolutely FINAL EXCERPT

glowgrass

THE WIDOWS AND ORPHANS FUND

This is one of my first crime fiction stories, published in Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine,  March, 2007.  In this tale, Edith, a homely accountant serving a sentence for fraud, is paroled to WOF, a strange social service agency. Bent on revenge, she dresses as a cleaner and confronts her ex-boss, Paul, the author of her misfortune.

 

 **

            “Paul…” Now that she had her moment, the moment she’d planned for five years, words died in the dust of her throat. “Paul…”

            “Edith?” Paul’s fine brows shot up. “How did you get in?” He leaned forward, one hand outstretched.

            “Don’t call security.”

            “Who’s going to stop me? You? What the hell-“

The shiv leapt into her hand. Her heart was pounding, but the blade didn’t waver. “Sit down. Don’t touch anything.”

            “OK, OK, take it easy.” He dropped into the leather chair behind his desk, highly amused. “Say what you have to say, but short sound bites, OK? I have a client meeting.”

            “You used me.”

“So easy, right? Admit it, you’re not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.”

            “Shut up!” She brandished the knife, one hand braced on the desk. “Answer me or forget your client meeting. Forever.”

            “Fine, ask away.” He leaned back, polished, smug even. Five years had blurred and twisted his features somehow. Why had she found him beautiful?

            “Miguel Rio wasn’t skimming the money from Shipmaster. You were. You used Miguel’s user ID to cover your tracks. But you ran across another hacker in Shipmaster’s computer system – me! Only a matter of time till I discovered your games. You neutralized me to keep the money.”

   “Guess you had time in jail to think for once.”

            “How could you, Paul? I loved you.”

            “Oh, for God’s sake.”

Edith saw him glance at his watch in blatant boredom. She wiped her eyes with her free hand. “Miguel was onto you, wasn’t he?”

“Yeah, one day he actually did some work after his three-martini lunch.”

Breathing grew hard. “You killed him, didn’t you?”

            “Bull shit.”

            “Don’t lie to me!” She flashed the knife. At last she detected a glimmer of fear in those astonishing blue eyes.

            “Grow up, Edith. It was him or me or lose $50 million. Be glad you just went to jail.”

            “Murderer! Give me the passwords to your off-shore accounts.”

            “Just like that?”

            “You have to pay back the money. Clear Miguel’s name. And you owe me, too, you bastard!” 

    “You stupid bitch!” He had the glass sculpture. Raised above his head. Crashing down.

            Edith could never sort out what happened next. Perhaps those scuffles in prison had quickened her defences. Suddenly millions of pieces of glass were everywhere. Paul was leaping over the desk like a wild animal. A stranger she’d never imagined.

**

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – LAST EXCERPT!

glowgrass

AMDUR’S CAT

This light-hearted story is my personal favorite. Tiddles is based on one of our beloved cats and he lives again in this story. Some of the antics at the Ministry of Health were inspired by a certain notorious Toronto mayor – and I leave to you, dear reader, to decide which ones are true and which are pure fantasy!

 Published in Thirteen, An Anthology by the Mesdames of Mayhem, Carrick Publishing, 2013.

            On a snowy December night Benjamin Amdur saw a lion. It was gamboling about like a kitten swatting at the fat, wet snowflakes that tumbled through the dark. Right in the centre of Riverdale Park by the children’s wading pool.

            Under the lamps of the park’s snowy pathway, the lion’s tawny fur glowed like the back of an old velvet sofa. For a brief moment – that gap between the surreal world and biting reality – he watched Rousseau’s painted lion came to life.

            Then he remembered the sleeping gypsy – the minstrel who was about to eaten.

            He grasped the icy black iron fence beside him. The house it surrounded lay dark. At two in the morning, its inhabitants, like most normal people, were in bed. By the time he woke them up screaming for help, the lion would have torn out his throat.

            With infinite caution, his eyes on the animal, he edged back into the shadows of Winchester Street, the road he’d weaved down moments before. Behind him, three blocks away, lay Parliament Street with its strip bars, eateries and mini-marts. Surely to God one of those places had to be open!

            The lion leapt in the air. It snapped at the snowflakes as they fell. He heard the crunch of its jaws, saw the flash of its teeth. Its tail lashed back and forth.

            Then it paused, raised its huge head and sniffed the air. Its nostrils twitched.

            He saw me!

            Amdur turned and ran like a mad man.

            Adrenalin buoyed him up for the first few feet but deserted him almost immediately. He was forty-eight and twenty pounds overweight. His regular habit of walking to work did nothing to bolster his panic-stricken need to run. He tore down the slushy sidewalk, his mind fixed on the zebras of the veldt. Zebras that ran far more swiftly than he. Zebras brought down and eviscerated alive…

            By the time he reached the yellow lights of Parliament Street his chest was heaving. He doubled over, gasping for oxygen. If the lion got him now, he was dinner. But he couldn’t take another step.

He looked frantically up and down the street. Every storefront was dark.

No buses, no taxis, no cars.

Then he spotted an angel standing under a streetlight a few yards to the south. Well, not an angel exactly, but a young police officer, her uniform immaculate, the brim of her cap spotless, her leather boots and gun holster gleaming with polish.

            He summoned his remaining strength and stumbled over to her. “Oh, thank God…an animal…danger…” He couldn’t stop panting. “Very dangerous. Over by …Riverdale Farm.”

  She raised a tidy eyebrow. “Are you quite all right, sir?”

            “No…no, I’m not all right.” With the dispassion of his medical training, he estimated his heart to be thumping at 180 beats per minute. His blood pressure didn’t bear thinking about. “You…help…must get help.”

            “How much have you had to drink tonight, sir?”

            “Drink?” he echoed.

            “Quite a few, I’d say. Identification, please.”

     “What?” Finally he caught his breath. “Please, you don’t understand. There’s a bloody great animal running around loose. It’ll rip someone apart. We have to stop it.”

            “Your ID. Now!” Her hand moved toward her baton.

            Amdur dragged out his wallet and handed her his driver’s license. Her laser stare burned through its laminate cover.

            “Dr. Benjamin Amdur.” She studied his face with more than an element of disbelief. “So you’re a doctor.”

            “Yes, I’m with the Ministry of Health. I’m Assistant Deputy Minister in charge of OHIP.”

            That made no impression on her whatsoever. “OHIP?”

            “Your, I mean, our free medicine in Ontario. Look here, we’re wasting time.”

            “How many drinks have you had tonight, sir?”

            “What the hell does it matter? I was at a Christmas party, for heaven’s sake. At the National Club.” That lofty name made even less impression on her. “I tell you I know what I saw. There’s a lion on the loose.”

            “Lion! Why didn’t you say so!”

            “I did say so.”

  “Where? Where did you see it?”

            “In Riverdale Park, by the children’s wading pool…the farm.”

            She shoved his license in her tunic and tore down Winchester Street, leaving him standing there like an idiot. He chased after her, but she set a blistering pace. He only managed to catch up with her at the edge of the park.

             Amdur squinted through the heavy curtain of falling snow. Where was the beast? Where was it? The grounds of the park stretched out before him, white and featureless under the thick drifts.

     No sign of the lion.

**

 

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – EXCERPT 8

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The Ultimate Mystery

 This cross-over tale stemmed from an idea that had nagged me for many years. It poses the question: What is a deity?

 Published in World Enough and Crime, Carrick Publishing, 2014.

 Finalist, Derringer Award, Long Short Story, 2015

In this excerpt, we see two parallel worlds: the underground kingdom where Lily exists and the isolated prairie farm where her earthly counterpart, Lucy, dwells.

Lily rarely saw diggers her size, since children fared poorly in the tunnels. Many died because they did not get enough to eat. During the frequent rock falls and tunnel collapses, children were more likely to lose their lives. Often, when she and Maria picked their way through the aftermath of a catastrophe, she’d see small limbs protruding from the debris.

            More disturbingly, she’d heard stories about guards taking young ones to the Supreme Ruler. In the dark, the other diggers whispered that those children simply disappeared. The guards had their way with them. Then ate them.

            She asked Maria if this was true.

            “Of course not,” Maria replied. “If we uphold The Law, the Authorities take care of us. That is the social contract our ancestors made long ago. We work to support the Supreme Ruler and the Authorities – and they feed us and keep us safe.”

            Which really means we dig and dig for nothing, Lily thought. Their food consisted of chunks of matter heavily processed at The Centre. On rare occasions it tasted sweet, but other times it tasted foul and bitter. Her fears multiplied.

            “Is there meat in the food?” Children? she wanted to ask.

            “No, not for diggers like us,” Maria replied. “Only the privileged eat meat. Meat keeps them strong so they can take care of us.”

           In other words, the Authorities and the guards ate meat. But so did the hunters who left the citadel to forage for food. At the rare gatherings with other diggers, Lily heard exciting tales about the hunters’ exploits. Rumour had it they did not always bring back all the food they found, even the precious meat.

            “That means the hunters are breaking The Law!” Lily whispered to Maria.

            “The hunters must sample their takings,” Maria said, hiding a smile. “To make sure that the food is fit for the Authorities.”

            “I want to be a hunter.”

            “That is not your rank. You are a digger. The Authorities decided this for you when you were born.”

            “Why? And don’t just say they obeyed The Law. Who made The Law anyway?”

            “The Goddess made The Law and everything in our world.”

            Lily thought this over. Every digger knew the Goddess made the world, and that She had created the Authorities in her own image. Of course, no one had any idea what the Goddess looked like, or the mechanism whereby She passed on Her word to The Authorities.

            “What if the Goddess got it wrong?”

            “Enough! No more questions.”

            Not understanding the reasons for what happened in the world made Lily feel stupid. She longed to go to school, but education of diggers was forbidden. Learning was reserved for the privileged. Maria reminded her yet again that their low status was an advantage: to be overlooked meant to be safe.

            “Are hunters allowed to learn?” Lily persisted.

            “Only enough to navigate the Outer World, so they can bring food home to our citadel.”

            Now, more than ever, Lily wanted to become a hunter.

***

            Lucy fidgeted on her kitchen chair. Every day Mom made peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, to save money, so Dad could have steak for dinner. To keep his strength up, Mom said. Because he was the one who travelled to earn money for the family.

            “Time for your lessons, dear.” Miriam gathered up their dirty dishes, clearing the way for Lucy’s textbooks.

            “Why do I have to learn at home? Why can’t I go to school like other children? And don’t just say it’s God’s will.”

            Miriam sighed. Lucy was always so full of questions. “Your father and I decided to home-school you the day you came into our lives. Public schools don’t follow God’s word, so the children there just learn about sex and drugs. I know you’re lonely, but out here we’re safe. And you’ll stay pure.”

**

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – EXCERPT 7

glowgrass

THE LIZARD

This story began when a friend told me about her daughter’s new pet, an animal the daughter wasn’t looking after properly. It started life as flash fiction for Maureen Jenning’s course on creativity, then grew into a longer story.

 Published in Crimespree Magazine, Summer Issue 2013 and reprinted in Kings River Life Magazine, August 2014. Also reprinted in the 2014 Bloody Words program book, the final year for Canada’s national crime fiction conference. 

Winner of the Bony Pete Award for Best Short Story, 2012.

In this excerpt, Margaret visits her daughter, Jennifer and discovers that she’s waiting for her drug dealer boyfriend, Paul’s return.

“I’m worried about your iguana,” Margaret said. “It seems to be in pain. It can’t move its leg properly. Why don’t I take it to my vet and let him take a look?”

            “Forget it!”

            “I’ll pay for the vet.”

            “How much?”

            Margaret shouldn’t have mentioned money. The social workers had warned her never to mention money in front of Jennifer.

           “How much would you pay? How much have you got with you?” Jennifer’s eyes shone with a frightening hunger.

            Margaret fumbled in her purse for her wallet. “Here’s fifty dollars. That’s all I have with me.”

            “Fifty bucks? That’s it?” Jennifer snatched the bills and shoved them into the waistband of her sweatpants. “That’s no help.”

            “When was the last time you ate something?”

            “I’m fine. Leave me alone.” Jennifer bounced off the sofa and ran over to the window. She parted the dusty slats of the venetian blind with her fingers to look out. “God, Paul, where are you? You said you’d be back right away.”

            How could Paul have such a hold on her daughter? He was years older, sickly thin from his life on the streets. He reminded Margaret of a furtive wet mole.

            “How long has he been gone?” she asked.

            “All night.” Jennifer chewed her thumb the way she used to in grade school. “He told me to sit tight and keep the door locked. That he’d take care of the problem.”

      “What problem?”

            “Business.” She looked at Margaret. “If you really want to help, give me fifty thousand dollars.”

            “What! Paul owes someone fifty thousand dollars? What happened?”

            “He screwed up, OK? Happy now? Quit asking me questions. Since you don’t want to help me, get out.”  

            “Jenny, please. I don’t have fifty thousand dollars to give you. Even if I did, we both know it wouldn’t change anything. There will always be a next time with Paul. And a time after that.”

“Well, this time he’s dead. And I’m dead, too.”

**

 

MY NEW BOOK: GLOW GRASS & OTHER TALES – EXCERPT 6

glowgrass

GLOW GRASS

On a nature walk, we ran across a memorial garden buried in the woods. What a perfect gift for a crime writer! This novella was first published in 13 O’clock, Anthology by the Mesdames of Mayhem, D. Carrick ed., Carrick Publishing, 2015.  It became a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novella, 2016.

In the story, the hero, Paula, is in the throes of a nasty divorce. To escape she returns to her family cottage where her father died, but bizarre events leave her increasingly trapped.

In this excerpt, Paula ducks into the woods to get away from the strange old farmer, Sark, who lives on the neighboring farm.

**

Sark will realize I’m here alone…

            She ran down the eastern side of the cottage away from the drive, her mind working. I’ll head up to the beaver pond while it’s still light, she thought. Wait him out.

            The trail to the beaver pond started behind Dad’s shed. She had no choice now, she had to cross over the horrible spot. A shimmering tongue of glow grass leaked out into the trail as though pointing the way to the pond.

            Fire shovel in hand, she dashed over the sinister spot and plunged down the narrow track into the safety of the trees. The path snaked deeper into the forest, the glow grass dwindling out behind her.

            The beaver pond lay buried in the woods half a kilometer north of the cottage. At one time, homesteaders owned a farm there with an apple orchardor so Sark had told Dad. But the settlers had departed long ago and over time their log house had crumbled into the forest soil. The orchard had grown wild until beavers dammed the creek that cut through the forest, drowning the apple trees, turning their dead trunks silver.  

           The lost farm made Dad melancholy. It reminded him of time’s passing, he said. But in the beaver pond all she saw was life: frogs, dragon flies, turtles, snails and minnows. Once a pair of Canada geese nested there. Another time she even caught a perch, which Dad cooked for dinner. She’d always meant to find out who owned the land around the beaver pond. All Dad could tell her was that it lay well beyond their property line.

            The trail suddenly veered right not left. She stopped, bewildered, faced with a tangle of brambles and reeds

The path turns left here, she thought. Dad cut the trail along the left side of the pond so we could walk along its edge to the far end. Too many cedar trees on the right side: Dad never owned the heavy tools he needed to cut through them. I’ve used this trail since I was a kid. It turns left here, not right

            She clutched the fire shovel as though she could beat her memory into submission.

Oh, God, this divorce is driving me crazy.

            Crazier, wouldn’t you say?

            Go away, Brian.

            She took the path to the right.

            It led into the shadows of the now-towering cedar trees. A short distance along, she spotted a soft green light: glow grass growing into the trail.

            It spilled out from a tiny track that branched away through a clump of alders. Dodging the leafless bushes, she followed it into a small clearing.

There a stone garden bench rested in a soft carpet of glow grass. Several small stones bordered its circular edge. On closer inspection, the stones proved to be store-bought garden ornaments, inscribed with a single word like “Forever” or “Remember”. Between the stones stood small plaster statues of angels holding soiled plastic flowers or soggy, bedraggled ribbons. One angel held a glass engraving of the poem, Desiderata, the relic cracked and damaged by the weather. Votive candles in red glass holders lay scattered among the stones, most burned down to the end.

            This was a memorial garden. But for whom?

She sank down on the bench. The tiny monuments were cheap: she’d seen them for sale in dollar stores. None bore a date or name. Perhaps the strange garden was an amateurish, heartfelt tribute to a family pet.

            But what if it wasn’t?

            She shivered. Who built the garden? Why hide it in the woods away from prying eyes? Was it the unknown owner of the beaver pond?

            Over the years, she and Dad had found evidence of strangers round the pond: cigarette butts, fish line and hooks, empty beer cans… Anyone could pass through their cottage property when she and Dad weren’t there.

The mysterious gardener had taken glow grass from the cottage and replanted it here. That felt like a warning, a challenge even. As if the unknown gardener was telling her: You abandoned the cottage. Now it’s mine to do with as I like.

           The woods were deathly silent. Yet she had an uneasy sense that someone lurked in the shadows. Watching, waiting, matching her breath for breath. She felt in her jacket for her phone and remembered she’d left it in the car.

            She stood up slowly, wielding the puny fire shovel. Saw nothing but lifeless bushes and dark cedar trees.

            Heart pounding, she stumbled back to the main trail. She walked briskly, faster and faster through the waning light until she was running flat out. She didn’t stop until she burst clear of the trees.

            The porch light was on. Under its harsh light, the glow grass had turned a chalky, sepulchral white.

Sark stood on the front porch, his bulky form blending into the dusk.

**